When Selection Sunday began, Chris Mack wasn’t concerned about Xavier making the NCAA Tournament – at least not at first.
“It wasn’t very great in the beginning of the show,” Mack said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show, referring to his level of panic. “Everybody that does the projections – Jerry Palm, (Joe) Lunardi, Stewart Mandel – every one of those guys had us in. It’s been my experience that if every one of them has you in, then you’re likely in the field.”
But as the selection show continued, Xavier’s name still hadn’t been called. And then, finally, it was.
“The fact is, we were the last team called,” Mack said. “When you put yourself in the position where you’re a 10-seed, 11-seed, you’re one of the last teams that’s really in the tournament as an at-large – I got to tell you, we got a little nervous down the stretch. (We were) fortunate to have our name called there at the very end.”
It was worth the wait. No. 11 Xavier (23-13) is back in the Sweet 16 for the second time in three years, this after beating No. 3 Florida State, 91-66, on Saturday.
Xavier’s Round-of-32 fate was much better this year than last year, when the Muskies lost to Wisconsin on a buzzer-beating three from Bronson Koenig.
“That was a heartbroken locker room,” Mack said. “I think a lot of guys remember that feeling. I don’t want to over-dramatize it, but our guys remember that feeling. We talked about not only attacking this year, but finishing and making sure that how we finish is stressed in everything we do – from drills to practices to games to seasons. I’m glad they’ve been able to enjoy the success of this postseason.”
Mack, 47, has been at Xavier since 2004. He was an assistant under Sean Miller from 2004-09 and replaced him when Miller went to Arizona.
Mack and Miller will square off in the Sweet 16 this Thursday. Miller got the better of this matchup in 2015, beating Mack’s Muskies, 68-60, to advance to the Elite Eight.
“The good thing is when we played the last time in 2015, since they knocked us off, Sean and I made a pact that if we ever played again, that he would let us win,” Mack said, laughing. “So I’m looking forward to an opportunity to play against the winner of Gonzaga/West Virginia now that Miller is going to give us this game in the Sweet 16.”
In all seriousness, Mack said that none of his players – or the student body – has ill will for Miller or Arizona.
“He’s been so far removed,” Mack said. “None of the students (were here when he left). None of the players on my team (played for him). They only have heard of Sean. They never played for him or anything like that.”
While Xavier was a stepping stone for Miller, it’s a destination for Mack.
“Xavier is in a much different place even when Sean was here,” said Mack, who played for Xavier from 1991-93. “The dynamics have changed going to the Big East. We had a national championship team (in Villanova) a year ago. We got seven teams in (the tournament this year). I’m a little different. I’m from the city of Cincinnati. I played here. This is my alma mater. I don’t think there’s any coach in America that would be honest and say they’re never leaving. But I’m as sure of a bet as you could find staying here at Xavier and being faithful to the school that gave me the opportunity.”
Mack would love to reward his alma mater with its first Elite Eight since 2008, which he can do Thursday in San Jose. Tip-off is at 10:09 p.m. ET.